A thermally driven piston assembly's housing has (i) a first material slidingly fitted therein, and (ii) at least one plug of a second material slidingly fitted therein and abutting the first material. The first material is one (e.g., a liquid crystal elastomer) that undergoes a stiffness change and/or a dimensional change when subjected to a temperature change in the temperature range of interest. When subjected to the temperature change while in the housing, the first material is restricted to changing dimensionally along a single dimension. The second material retains its shape and size throughout the temperature range of interest. As a result, the plug moves in the housing in correspondence with the dimensional change of the first material or the plug's movement is damped by the stiffness change of the first material.